Saturday, 26 December 2009

A meagre crop of carrots

Well, this was more of an experiment to see what happened than a serious attempt to grow carrots, though I did have in mind pulling them up at Christmas. The thought of my own fresh baby carrots for Christmas dinner was quite appealing, even if it didn't quite work out like that in the end.
I realise, now I'm posting this, that there's no scale on the photo, so you don't really have much idea of how big they are, but I'll reassure you that they're small. Not really a serving for two.

The whole experiment was rather badly done. In the spring and early summer we grew potatoes in 5 old 50-litre compost bags, lifting them around July time and very lovely they were, too. Being able to just dive your hands into the compost and pull out the spuds was lovely, and they were so easy to clean and had no slug damage at all. Wonderful.

But then the bags of used compost just lay around getting in hte way, and some time later (can't remember when, so a great experiment, yes? I think it was after we sang in Gloucester cathedral, so probably September) I took two bags into the greenhouse and sowed one with cos lettuce and one with carrots.

The lettuces were great as we were able to harvest them in November as baby leaves to use in caesar salads, and they were quite delicious and crisp. The carrots are as you see. I pulled about half of them, as the remaining ones were clearly too small to be worth the effort. Next year I'll start them in June or July I think, as soon as the spuds come out.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Surprising news from the lower Congo

There are so many aspects of this little video report from the lower Congo River, I'm somewhat stunned. First, that the river is so extraordinarily deep - commonly 300 feet, but dropping suddenly in places to over 500 feet deep. Submerged canyons, even.

And the wild hydrodynamics make it look extremely dangerous, too. Just watch in awe as those guys kayaking through the rapids!

But the conclusions the scientists reach is just as amazing; the hydrodynamics breaks the river up into discrete areas in which populations of fish are isolated from each other, and as a result, speciation events are happening all the time here. New species are evolving because they're isolated in relatively small groups.


Tuesday, 22 December 2009


I say nothing!

'Venomous' dinosaur!

Well I suppose it shouldn't come as a great surprise that a dinosaur might have been venomous; after all, many reptiles, eg komodo dragons, use venom to subdue their prey. Bit it's a nice extra snippet of information to file away. The Beeb tells us about a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

In the context of fangs, snakes fall into two categories; those with their fangs at the front, like cobras, rattlesnakes and mambas, which kill their prey by poisoning them, and those with their fangs at the back, like pythons and anacondas, which kill their prey primarily by constriction, though they do also have venom.

According to the paper

Rear-fanged snakes are considered less dangerous than other venomous snakes.

The fangs in these snakes do not inject venom, but instead channel the poison along a groove on the outer surface of teeth that pierce their prey's flesh.

Sinornithosaurus had upper teeth that were similarly long, grooved and fang-like.

Just as a little aside here, I was at a talk by a snake venom expert a few years ago, in which he dispelled a myth about snakes, though like all good myths, it continues to propogate around the world.

When he analysed the venom of venomous and 'non-venomous' snakes, he found it was essentially the same. All snakes use basically the same venom. The big difference is that 'non-venomous' snakes inject it using fangs at the rear of their mouths, so don't generally manage to inject very much. This was tragically demonstrated in the case of a boy in the US whose parents had given him a 'non-venomous' snake as a pet. The snake bit him and managed to inject a lethal dose of its poison.

So now you know! I didn't know the bit about the rear fangs being grooved rather than hollow.

Another impressive image of the virgin Mary...

Oh I do love this! I lifted the picture from The Friendly Atheist, but even she doesn't know where it originally came from. Classic!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Spectacular footage of submarine volcano

The Beeb has a webpage with an impressive video of a submarine volcanic eruption, taken by a robot submersible 1000 metres down in the Pacific Ocean. Sadly, I can't find a way to embed the video directly, so you'll just have to follow the link. Worth it anyway, as the text explains what's interesting about it much better than I could.

So if you ever wondered what happens when really hot magma comes into contact with icy cold, highly-pressurised deep water, now's your chance to find out!

And, of course, they found bacteria and shrimp living in the highly-acid water. Yawn. Extremophiles are so last year, my dear! Well all right, maybe they are this year, but this year is almost last year, init?

Sunday, 20 December 2009


So it snowed here on Thursday evening and I decided I was going to have some fun! Do you like my iguana? Well, it did seem most appropriate, given where we've just been.

Just because I'm old, doesn't mean I can't be immature as well!

Friday, 18 December 2009

We've been away...

Can you guess where? Here are a few clues.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Missing link Croco-duck found!

I'm lifting this directly from JREF, 'cos I'm really short of time, but I love this! Enjoy!

For the past few years, anyone who has been following the Creation vs. Evolution debate has come across the comment by Kirk Cameron, made on the The O'Reilly Factor, that there are no "transitional forms." His exact quote, which demonstrates his general misinformedness as to how evolution actually works, was:

"Plus, Darwin said in order to prove evolution, which is the number one alternative to God, you gotta be able to prove transitional forms. One animal transitioning into another, and all through the fossil record and life we don't find one of these. A croco-duck. There's just nothing like it. There is no one animal transitioning into another"

Not so fast, Cameron. The croco-duck has been found.

In fact, two separate candidates for the coveted title of "croco-duck" have been uncovered in two different parts of the world. The first of these creatures was discovered on the southern coast of Peru. This creature, a pelagornithid, has been described as "a giant, bony-toothed seabird that lived up to 10 million years ago." In the beast's Wikipedia article, we find this bit: "Some believe they are related to gannets and pelicans, while other say they are related to ducks." Of course having no living specimen to examine, we are left to speculate as to what this pre-historic water-fowl with the giant, bony-toothed bill may have looked like. Wikipedia has an artist rendition, but it's approximate. There does, however, seem to be a taxonomical relation between the pelagornithid and the anseriformes, a family which includes -- you guessed it -- ducks. So, candidate one for the title of croco-duck is a duck-like creature with a bill filled with sharp, crocodile-like teeth.

Candidate number two is even more croco-duckish. Dr. Paul Sereno, a Sahara-based Paleontologist with National Geographic, recently unearthed five species of ancient crocodile. One of them, the previously-discovered "Anatosuchus minor," is also known as the "duck crocodile" for it's broad, duck-like snout. This species was originally discovered in 2003 by Dr. Serano in Gadoufaoua, Niger.

So we have two viable candidates for the title of croco-duck. The beauty of this is that these plainly transitional forms would be a lot less noteworthy if the creationists hadn't spent so much time crowing about their non-existence. Alas, they are hoist by their own petard. If you spare even a thought for the pelagornothid, it's likely probably because you're pondering the ironic contrasts between the world the creationists believe in and the one we actually inhabit.

The theory of evolution by natural selection, unlike the falsehoods peddled by Kirk Cameron, is based in many varied and dynamic disciplines. It is a combination of biology, chemistry, physics, archeology, paleontology, astronomy, and more. Central to all of them is the ability to question; to test a hypothesis, and should it prove wrong, to begin again. This is why new evidence is always welcome to the scientist, and so often discomfiting to the believer. Scientists love to unearth croco-ducks. Believers always wish they'd go away.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Cephalopod movie footage

I've seen some of this footage before, but not all. There are tricks I'd really like to be able to do myself, like the colour changes and some of the shape changes, too!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The PVS man and Facilitated Communication

When I saw the video of Rom Houben, the Belgian(?) man in a Persistent Vegetative State following a car crash 23 years ago, I was deeply sceptical of the way he was supposedly communicating with the outside world. It just looked too easy for it to be the carer who was doing the communicating.

It seems I'm not the only one. Steven Novella at doesn't believe it either.

He has clearly revisited his article later and has added:
Addendum: Here is a new video in which Houben clearly has his eyes closed while the “facilitator” is typing furiously. This is completely impossible. (Hat tip to Orac for the link – he has also discussed the case.)

Actually, the video link seems to take you to a whole page of other links, so be warned.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A worthy cause

The Richard Dawkins Foundation is looking to raise funds, and I'd say they're one of the better targets for your seasonal charity donations.

Damn Atheists!

Ha ha! I love this!

Oh wait! It is a joke, isn't it?